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Red-light camera plan pits Cook County against suburbs
Opponents, proponents debate legality of move

Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Chicago Tribune
by Dan Hinkel


Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene Mulder paused for a long moment before finishing her suggestion about what Cook County can do with its recently announced plan to use red-light cameras to ticket suburban drivers.

"Cook County can just take their cameras," Mulder said, "and put them anywhere they want, but not in my town."

Several communities have launched efforts to try to keep the cameras out after county commissioners last week voted to install them, releasing a list of 30 "top candidate intersections" ó crossings with at least one county-maintained road in towns from Tinley Park to Schaumburg to Wilmette.

So far, only 20 intersections are expected to get cameras when the devices are rolled out, according to county officials, who said they hope to have them up and running sometime this year.

Opposition has been loudest in the north and northwest suburbs. Leaders in Schaumburg, which has six intersections on the list, said they may seek an injunction to block the devices. At least one community, Wilmette, drafted a resolution opposing the plan and blasting the county for what suburban officials claim is a revenue grab.

James Ramos, a spokesman for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger, said no information was available on potential revenues the devices would generate. But he said estimates indicate the plan should at least break even.

The county, Ramos said, has no plan to share camera revenues with the municipalities.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said tentative budget calculations have placed the cameras' possible revenue haul at $2 million in the first year. Suffredin, who voted in favor of the contract, said he thinks the cameras could make the intersections safer.

Addressing concerns that the move is a gambit to boost revenue, Stroger spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said the plan's only goal is to "enhance safety." She said the county would strive to avoid inaccurate citations, and said the intersections were chosen using state-provided accident data.

"It's a safety-first thing," she said.

Cook County Highway Department Superintendent Rupert Graham Jr. said the intersections were chosen using traffic statistics and information on the number and severity of accidents at the intersections. The cameras would only record traffic on the roads that are maintained by the county, he said.

Some municipal leaders were casually receptive to the plan. Officials in Buffalo Grove and Tinley Park said they would not oppose a thoughtfully deployed camera program. Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said the legal department was looking into jurisdictional issues, but said he generally supports red-light cameras.

But leaders in several suburbs question how intersections in their municipalities were chosen.

Wilmette Village Manager Timothy Frenzer said the intersection at Lake Avenue and Ridge Road was once a trouble spot, but changes in lane configurations and new traffic signals have reduced crashes there. Wilmette has no red-light cameras, he said.

Burr Ridge Village Administrator Steven Stricker and Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett both said they weren't sure why intersections in their municipalities were chosen. Stricker said Burr Ridge has no cameras, and Bennett said Palos Hills has two.

"It sounds to me like they haven't done their research," Stricker said.

Commissioners Timothy Schneider and Tony Peraica have vowed to try to halt the plan.

Schneider said he has asked the state's attorney's office to examine whether the county can legally use the cameras to monitor intersections in municipal jurisdictions. Some suburban leaders have questioned the county's right to do so.

Chicago attorney Eydie Glassman said she sees no jurisdictional reason the county couldn't use cameras to remotely patrol county-maintained roads, even if those roads cut through municipalities.

Municipal leaders are united on one point: They say Cook County officials didn't consult them during the plan's formulation.

"We just found out through the media, which does not make us real happy," Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz said.

Graham said the county would notify municipalities once the intersections are selected.

Schwantz said residents in Palatine, a community where a wide majority voted symbolically in favor of seceding from Cook County last spring, would not be "excited" by the prospect of being monitored by the county.

Schneider agreed, saying, "This just gives everybody all the more reason to want to secede from Cook County."

Sitting on the patio at a coffee shop a few hundred feet from the Schaumburg and Roselle roads intersection in Schaumburg, Karen Groves and Kathy Boyd disagreed on whether a red-light camera there would improve safety.

Boyd said the light would increase the danger by encouraging drivers to speed up or slow down. Groves said she thinks the cameras are good for safety.

But neither Schaumburg resident wants to give any more revenue to Cook County.

"I don't trust any of these people in office now," Boyd said.

Freelance writer Graydon Megan contributed to this story.

dhinkel@tribune.com


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